U.S. Relations With Australia Will Be Tested By Refugee Deal

When he decided to run for the office of President of the United States, Donald Trump knew that he was taking on the obligation of cleaning up some major messes. In Trump’s terms, much of the rectification would come in the form of re-negotiating “dumb deals,” withdrawing from them completely in certain cases such as the Paris Climate Accord.

Trump has not been shy about calling out these deals which he sees as losers when examined from the perspective of the American people. A refugee resettlement deal with Australia is one of the Obama-era pacts that Trump has lambasted as one of the very worst. In short, Zero Hedge describes the deal as such:

‘The deal in question is a controversial agreement that Australia agreed with former President Barack Obama late last year for the United States to resettle up to 1,250 asylum seekers held in offshore processing camps on Pacific islands in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. In return, Australia would resettle refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.’

It is a perplexing deal that begs questions about cultural relativism, the hierarchy of immigrant groups, and why such a swap of immigrants – whose apparent differences are only their regions of origin – is even necessary.

Further, such an agreement seems to run counter to the President’s suspension of the ‘refugee’ program that, under Obama, pitted the federal government against the governors of 38 states, who saw the expansion of definitional parameters of the term ‘refugee,’ and the resulting order to settle Syrians in their states, as standing against the interests of their citizens.

In November of 2015, the Washington Examiner reported on the federal government’s assertion that they, and they alone, could decide whether a state would be forced to accept refugees, whether they be of war or economic plight. The term ‘refugee’ itself had become expanded, but the majority of American governors were not standing for it.

‘More than half of the nation's governors have pledged not to allow Syrian refugees into their states following the wave of terror attacks that hit Paris earlier in the month, which left 130 dead and hundreds more injured. It is suspected that at least one of the attackers gained entry into France through the European refugee resettlement program. The governors cited security concerns on the possibility of terrorists slipping into the U.S. using the refugee program.’

President Trump vowed to cease policies like the refugee re-settlement programs so many governors – including then-Indiana governor Mike Pence – opposed so vehemently. But, it is curious that Trump’s suspension of funding for the refugee program would be followed months later by a removal of caps on ‘refugees’ allowed to enter the country. This was explained by the passage of the new spending bill which apparently freed up funds for the State Department to allow for more refugees. Further, in July it was reported by The Blaze that refugees had surpassed President Trump’s 50,000 person limit, the result of a Supreme Court Order that allowed admittance for anyone who could prove a ‘bona fide’ connection to family members living in the United States.

Still, it is important to keep in mind that Obama had upped the number of refugees permitted to enter from 85,000 in 2016 to 110,000 in 2017. Even more importantly, those who understand the nature of Christian and Yazidi persecution in the Middle East, as well as the issue of Islamic extremism, must view Trump’s increased refugee acceptances with nuance.

‘Under Obama, a majority of the refugees admitted into the country were Muslim. From Jan. 21, Trump’s first full day as president, through June, more than 9,500 Christian refugees entered the U.S., compared to the 7,250 Muslim refugees who came into the country.’ (The Blaze)

All of this background on Trump’s evolving policy toward asylum seekers, both legitimate and not, brings us back to his relationship with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Turnbull, who was sworn into office in September 2015, is a former investment banker for Goldman Sachs with a somewhat unclear set of policies. According to the Wall Street Journal, Turnbull is a reported climate change believer, same-sex marriage supporter, and as the deal with Obama suggests, is lax when it comes to Australian border security.

It appears that his background in banking was the primary reason he was elected by the Australian people, who have faced increasing economic stagnation. But the latest move by the Liberal Party leader indicates that he may be more of the big government ilk, to put it mildly. This pro-government ideology seems to qualify him as far more aligned with the Obama way of ruling than the Trump camp. A recent proposal by the Australian government shows just how far Turnbull’s administration would be willing to go in terms of government overreach.

According to the Journal, ‘The proposed laws, which include “last resort” powers allowing authorities to intervene in privately owned businesses if national security is deemed to be at risk, come as a government report showed cyberattacks rose by 15% last year.’                                                                                                               

In some countries, they call that socialism. The fact that the report that is being used as rationale to justify a government takeover of private business in ‘national security’ threat scenarios was issued by the government itself makes it all the more questionable.

So, with this in mind, we probably should not be surprised that Turnbull and Trump have butted heads when it comes to re-negotiating the refugee resettlement deal. Take mainstream news outlets with a grain of salt, but some reports have stated that a February phone call between the leaders turned contentious, with Trump cutting the conversation off prematurely out of apparent frustration.

The Post reported that Trump described the resettlement plan as "the worst deal ever" and accused Australia of trying to export the "next Boston bombers." At one point, Trump reportedly informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day — including Russian President Vladi­mir Putin — and that “this was the worst call by far.” (Zero Hedge)

It makes sense considering each leader’s apparent differences on fundamental policies. Distrust for global investment banks is perpetually high in many circles, and Turnbull’s past with Goldman makes him far from the independent, can’t-be-bought leader that so many perceive Trump to be.

In other words, those who feel he may not be putting Australians, and certainly not Americans, first would be seemingly re-affirmed by Turnbull’s insistence that the resettlement deal remain intact. More recent reports suggest that Trump is reluctantly accepting refugees, who will be subject to American vetting processes before being allowed entry. Which is only logical, as they have been kept offshore by Australian authorities – in many cases for years – presumably for good reason.

54 refugees will be set to be processed by American authorities, however, and time will tell how many of the originally proposed 1,250 refugees will be granted entry.

“Around 50 refugees from P.N.G. and Nauru will be accepted in this first group, and they’ll be notified in coming days,” Mr. Turnbull said on Wednesday. “Vetting and processing by the United States will continue, and further decisions by U.S. authorities in respect of others are expected in due course.” (NYT)

The remaining refugees will be detained indefinitely in a new Australian offshore detention center. While the ongoing status of this Obama-era agreement remains to be seen, it seems clear that Turnbull and Trump are not going to be best of pals, nor see eye-to-eye on some fundamental issues of governance. The resettlement tug-of-war is likely to be only the first ideological disagreement between countries who have been cultural kindred spirits for much of their histories.

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